Separation and divorce
French or English: 10 questions and answers on language in the justice system
Although French is the official language in Quebec, the courts that deal with separation and divorce cases recognize both French and English. Here are ten questions and answers concerning written documents, hearings, and judgments to help you better understand your language rights before Quebec courts.
In separation or divorce matters, all documents drafted for the court can be in French or English, regardless of the language of the reader. This is the case, for example, in applications for custody and child support, divorce applications, draft agreements, and affidavits.
Not all documents have to be drafted in the same language. If your main application was drafted in English, you could choose to switch to French for some documents during the course of the proceedings, and vice-versa.
No. If your ex drafts his or her court documents in French, you can’t force him or her to use the language of your choice.
If you wish to have a document that was drafted in French translated in English, you’ll have to take care of it yourself, at your own expense.
Yes. You’re also under no obligation to provide a translated copy in French.
It all depends on the type of document.
Some official documents made outside of Quebec, such as marriage certificates or acts of birth, must be accompanied by a French translation done by a translator recognized in Quebec.
You’re not required to provide a translation of any other written evidence that you wish to add to your file, such as contracts or email exchanges. However, it’s better to provide one so that the judge can understand the document in question.
Find a translator (Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec)
On the day of the hearing
Court employees will make initial contact in French, but you can request service in English.
You can choose to speak in English or in French.
If you, your witnesses, or your lawyer wish to speak in a language other than French or English, you’ll need to have an interpreter translate your statements in real time to the court. In most cases, you have to pay for the interpreter’s services yourself.
Ask the court office of your local courthouse to find out the circumstances in which the Minister of Justice will pay for the services of an interpreter and the dates on which interpreters are available. Since they may have limited availability, it’s best to arrange for an interpreter in advance.
Find an interpreter (Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec)
You can use French or English before the courts. This means that hearings are sometimes conducted in both languages. If someone speaks French to you, you have to right to respond in English, and vice-versa.
However, if the opposite party is French-speaking and you have a hard time understanding French, it might be best to have a lawyer or an interpret who could help you understand everything that’s being discussed at the hearing. However, you can’t have a French-speaking friend or family member do this kind of translation work during the hearing, unless the judge specifically allows it.
The Court is not required to assign your case to an English-speaking judge. The Chief Justice is the one who decides which judge will hear your case.
However, if your documents for the court are drafted in English, or if you mentioned that you intend to speak in English at the hearing, the Chief Justice may take this information into consideration when assigning your case to a judge.
The judge can choose to draft judgments in French or in English, regardless of the language used during the hearing. It’s up to the judge to decide.
Yes. If you receive a judgment written in French, you can ask for it to be translated into English at no charge.
Even if you understand French, having a judgment translated into English can sometimes be useful or necessary, for example, if you obtained the Court’s authorization to travel abroad with your child.
To obtain a translation in English, contact the office of the courthouse where the judgment was rendered. You should do it as soon as possible. There might be delays before you can obtain it.
If you receive a judgment that terminates the proceedings and is written in English, the court will automatically provide you with a translation into French, without any action being required on your part.
If you need a translation in a language that isn’t French or English, you’ll need to find a translator and the translation costs yourself.
Request for the translation of a judgment (Justice Québec)
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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